Cover Story

Page County on a Roll

Eat local’ and fitness bike rally initiative takes off in the Shenandoah Valley.

by Cammie Tutwiler, Contributing Writer

 


David Sours, president of Page County Grown, joined hands with Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Eric Bendfeldt to initiate the "Page County Grown Metric Century," a 100-mile bicycle ride that gives participants the opportunity to visit local farms.

With Virginia Cooperative Extension Service’s help, ‘eat local’ and fitness bike rally initiative takes off in the Shenandoah Valley.

A new initiative is rolling through the commonwealth, and the nature of its origin may be surprising to some.

Though it appears to be — and is — a bicycling event, the “Page County Grown Century,” a 100-mile ride set for Oct. 12, will also afford participants the opportunity to visit local farms.

Farm visits and a bike ride? This might seem an unlikely combination, but the pairing presents opportunities for several community benefits — increased awareness of local foods, fitness, and potentially, additional tourism for the area. 

“The idea is to intertwine fitness and local foods, as well as healthy eating, and give farms a chance to show what they do,” says David Sours, president of Page County Grown (PCG), a network of local farmers. “Participants will be able to stop and talk to the farmers and look around.”

Those taking part in the ride will also be able to place an order for home-grown products while visiting the farms, and then pick up their orders at the dinner being held after the ride. Sours notes that two very important facets of Page County’s economy are paired in the activity: agriculture and tourism.

“This type of event shows more of who we are in the county,” he says. “This is the total package, putting together agriculture and tourism, and promoting a healthier lifestyle. This is the home run, by tying it all together. That’s the cool thing, you get back on a bike and get to be a kid again.”

VCE Supports Effort

Page County Grown is one of the primary organizers of the event, and it has utilized the extensive resources of Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) for organization and the Metric Century event.

“We are starting local with this event, and it could become a regional thing,” Sours says. “Eric [Bendfeldt, at the Northern District Extension office] has wanted to do an event like this for a long time. He suggested we check out a similar event in Pennsylvania to use as a point of reference.”

The Extension service helps communities in Virginia realize goals across countless disciplines, including agriculture and natural resources, community viability, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development. Extension is involved in many facets of the commonwealth, and this latest endeavor into community development has come through a concerted effort with Page County Grown.

“It would be great if we could get other counties involved with similar ‘bike-fresh’ farm and fitness connections,” Bendfeldt says.

Besides the Metric Century event, the Page County group is developing and implementing farm-to-school programs.

Eating Locally at School

A couple of years ago, the farm-to-school program in Page County consisted of eggs and seasonal produce sent to one school. Last year, weekly deliveries were made to all eight Page County Public Schools for the duration of the school year. Sours provided produce and eggs from his family farm, and delivered other PCG products and items from Shenandoah and Rockingham counties.

“It started with a garden at Springfield Elementary School, when I was asked for help with that,” Sours notes. “Then, I contacted Diane Dovel, the food services director for Page County Schools, and asked her what products she could use.”

It started with six dozen eggs, which he would drop off at school with his daughter. The eggs, he said, were then distributed to the other schools in the county. Schools pay for items based on seasonal availability.

Now, there have been two “go local” days at the schools, one each spring for the last two years, where kids at all eight schools in the county were served a breakfast and a lunch consisting entirely of local foods, from produce to protein.

It’s a big educational day you go and talk to students, and a connection is made,” Sours notes. “We would love to see these events become more frequent, and have more local foods available every day. We want to work to expand it, that’s for sure.

Community connection, starting in Page County and branching out through the state, is what the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service seeks.

“The overall goal of Virginia Cooperative Extension is to address community issues and needs by providing people with research-based information,” says Northern District Director Cyndi Marston. “We give people the information and tools they can use to improve their lives.”

Sours adds that he’s proud of what Page County Grown has been able to accomplish in the schools.

“It’s been a concerted effort between Page County Grown, Page County Schools, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce, Page County Schools Food Director Diane Dovel, citizens, and teachers. All of these people have supported us,” Sours says.

To date, he adds, the farm-to-school program is the biggest success for Page County Grown.

Page County Grown

The group that became Page County Grown met for the first time in February 2011 at the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce office. Since that initial gathering of 30 people, a diverse cross-section of producers has become involved, including a beekeeper, a goat farmer, a Christmas-tree grower, a viticulturist, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer, and a beef farmer.

“When I had the thought of developing something like Page County Grown, the first person I contacted was Eric Bendfeldt with Extension, to run the idea by him,” Sours notes. “He suggested that I check out something similar in North Carolina, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, to learn more.”

Kenner Love, an Extension agent in Rappahannock County, says Extension has played a support role for Page County Grown.

“We also co-host events with them, and work together for educational efforts in the community,” Love notes. “We hope to provide educational opportunities for different communities to come together and learn from each other.”

Sours says that in developing PCG, he wanted to have a logo/brand for products grown or raised in Page County.

“We hear so much about keeping our dollars in the local economy,” he says. “So when people see this logo, they know that their money is going directly to farmers or eateries that are growing or using Page County Grown products.”

Another goal, according to Sours, was to foster the relationship between growers/ farmers and institutional markets. This has been achieved in the local school system, where in the last year, Page County Public Schools got 37 percent of their produce from local producers.

And Extension events have provided ideas for Page County Grown, Farm to Schools, and other local programs.

“We didn’t have to re-invent the wheel when we started moving forward with Page County Grown, due in part to the guidance and resources offered by Extension,” he says.

Virginia Cooperative Extension

Serving as a resource, as well as offering ideas and support are some of the ways Virginia Cooperative Extension works to be active in communities throughout the commonwealth.

Established in 1914, Virginia Cooperative Extension is divided into four geographic districts in the state, with 107 local offices. 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, the law that created the Cooperative Extension system.

“During our history, VCE has continuously adapted to address new issues facing Virginians,” Southeast District Director Doris Baskfield-Heath says. “We feel that VCE is needed as much today, if not more than ever, and we will continue to provide credible, practical research-based information to help Virginians improve their lives into the future.”

VCE provides educational programs and information in four main areas: agriculture and natural resources, community viability, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development. Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the common­wealth. Extension is funded by federal, state and local coffers.

“We engage stakeholders and partners in issues-based discussions, and provide educational programming that produces solutions for many challenges,” Central District Director Dan Goerlich notes.

One of the programs, community viability, has offered ideas and resources for the Page County Grown initiative. Commu­nity-viability programs are dedicated to strengthening communities and their economic viability by creating innovative programs that allow citizens and local governments to respond to local issues.

“Over the last several years, we’ve worked on local foods programs and community-based food systems,” Bendfeldt says. “We want to improve the quality of life of Virginians by helping them access community resources that are available, and help Virginians adapt to emerging issues and have greater community resilience.”

Southwest District Director Danny Peek notes that the focus of VCE is the people.

“VCE’s focus has always been on providing research-based information that enables clients to make positive life changes to improve their lives,” Peek says. “A client once said, ‘Thank you for caring. This class has made a big impact in my life.’ To us, that sums up what our work is about.”

Bendfeldt says he thinks one of the most important functions of Extension is to bring the universities’ resources to the doorsteps of individuals and communities throughout Virginia, with both critical and emerging issues.

“I like to think of us as the front porch of the university in the community,” Northern District Director Cyndi Marston says. “Our charge is to bring information based on research at the university level to the communities, in order to enable citizens to have a better quality of life.”

Page County Grown Century Bicycle Rally  When: Oct. 12, start time 7 a.m. • Where: Staging Area, Performing Arts Luray, 1 East Main St., Luray, Va. • Dinner Location: Performing Arts Luray • Price: (includes tee shirt, dinner, and ride): 26 mile - $40; 55 mile - $45; 100 mile - $50. No charge for Page County residents except for small processing fee on bike registration. • Farms open for visitation: Survivor Farm, Valley Star Farm, Public House Produce, Long Acres Farm, Wisteria Farm and Vineyard.• Website: www.bikereg.com/Net/21440.

 

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